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CRM and Unified Communications

My last blog focused on how Unified Communications (UC) can empower the contact center by directing nontraditional call center calls to the center.  Most people think of UC as a way of combining multiple contact points for one person to a single point of contact (thus John Smith’s office phone, cell phone, email, IM, etc. can all be directed to “ring” on his cell phone).  This is the common way UC is explained, and it can be very valuable — but it can also result in TMI (too much information).

Everyone may be created equal, but we can’t give all of our customers, peers, bosses, and the world at large equal access to us or we’d never get any work done.  We need to prioritize who can contact us and how.  Thus with UC we can identify specific people (our boss, our spouse, our key customer) to reach us at our #1 end point (maybe that cell phone) while other important people get directed to voice mail — or as I pointed out in my last blog — this is a perfect opportunity to now direct those folks to a contact center where an inside sales rep or pool admin can hopefully handle their needs in one call (OCR = one call resolution).

So there is a natural marriage between UC and CC (contact center).

Where does CRM come into play?

CRM (customer relationship management) has become such a muddied term.  It has become far too generic.  To some it does mean contact center software (and it can be that), to some it means the software or software as a service (SaaS) that outside sales reps use to keep track of their accounts, where they are in the sales cycle, etc. — and that is a good definition. . .but CRM is much bigger than that.

CRM is really broken into two broad categories:  “front office CRM” and “Back office CRM.”

Front office CRM are the applications that actually touch the customer directly — the voice on the phone in the contact center, an internet interface where they can place an order, customer service (again online or over the phone) or the live customer service rep (CSR).  Any part where the customer is directly interfacing with your company is a form of “front office CRM.”

And a logical touchpoint for UC and CRM to link.

The holy grail of the contact center for years has been OCR – one call resolution.    Any problem that isn’t resolved in one call, or any sale that can’t be closed in one call (“we have an internet special where for the same price you are paying today you can add XYZ. . .”) costs lots of money.  Any customer service call that takes too long or requires “follow up” also begins to alienate your customers making them more inclined to leave you for another firm.

UC can dramatically improve the goal of OCR — whether that “one call” is a phone call, an internet access or even your face to face outside sales rep.

It all has to do with the “hand off.”  Inside a contact center this can be done with intelligent routing (which is really what UC is in a larger scheme of things).  We route the call to the most logical, not the first available, agent.   With UC we are now moving beyond the barrier of the contact center and able to route the call to best person no matter what department they work in, or even WHERE THEY ARE physically.

Setting up skills routing takes time, but the rewards are immense both in customer satisfaction and in cost reduction.

All of this so far focuses on the connectivity between front office CRM and UC, but back office CRM can increase this cost reduction by quantum factors.  Using a data warehouse (or perhaps data mart) to identify your most profitable customers you may choose to always route them to a specific department or person — not blindly treating all customers the same but giving platinum treatment to platinum customers.

By contrast your lower value customers (in margins) can always be routed through an IVR (interactive voice response) unit and routed to newer agents. . .  The dirty little reality in sales is that there are some customers that are not worth having because the amount of work they require (and work = expense to your company) may mean you actually lose money by having them as a customer.  Back end CRM identifies who is profitable and thus worth retaining.

One to one marketing is a myth.  We do not market to all of our prospects and customers in the same way and we shouldn’t.   Back end CRM’s information on customer profitability can help determine who we route to whom in our dynamic, unified communications world.

This blog is speaking in generalities — as if we had all the money and time in the world to link all of these disparate systems together.    The good news is that many of these systems are already begining to be linked — Cisco with Salesforce.com, Aspect with MicrosoftAvaya and SAP, Nortel offers integration to Microsoft Dynamics CRM and implemented Dynamics internally.   The idea is to take advantage of the technologies you may already have in place such as a legacy  Siebel implementation maybe using AT&T’s Siebel Solutions offer) to improve relations with your customers and business partners through a streamlined “one call resolution” that goes far beyond the silos of “outside sales,” “engineering,” “customer service” across your business.

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How do Twitter, Facebook and other Social Networks impact UC?

Unified Communications — the holy grail of both traditional networking companies (Cisco, Avaya, etc.) and some not so traditional network firms (Microsoft) has the lofty goal of bringing together your office phone, voice mail, home phone, cell phone, email and instant messaging into one point of contact.  You (as the end point) decide who can reach you at whatever access point you are at, through a central phone number or ID.  You can also identify who cannot get to you (for example that pesky sales rep goes automatically to voice mail, SPAM filter or admin).

Unified Communications puts the receiver in control of who can reach them and how they are reached.

Unified Communications, aka UC, has great possibilities to make time more productive — no more phone tag, no more voice mail hell of trying to reach someone for a deadline and failing.  It really is a time saver, can be a deal saver — and has the possibility of being an enormous money saver.  (You can have a central phone number but let many workers telecommute while still having the professional “front end” of your central business phone gateway).

UC is NOT UM (unified messaging) which centralized the voice and electronic mail together.  It is much, much more than that.  Yet not only has UM muddied for most what UC is and is not, now along comes social networking which has muddied it even more!

Twitter is a quick burst “push” technology that lets its users post what they are doing.  Others can follow these “tweets.”  Facebook and other social networks lets you keep up to date with your friends and LinkedIn lets you network with business associates you know, or whom you should know.

Let’s face it — UC and social networking are all forms of communications.

Do they dove tail somewhere in the middle?  Are they diametrically opposite?  Is one the death knell for the other?

They dovetail.

UC allows the recipient (end point) to determine who can reach him/her, how and when.

Social networks allow the sender (send point) to broadcast messages to individuals or groups.  There is no way to immediately reach the sender (even with a tweet or message on Facebook there is no way to determine when the sender will see it let alone respond to it).

So UC is the ying to social networking’s yang.  Opposite, yet complimentary.  One is casual and end points access it when they have the time and the need and the inclination.  It is a “pull” technology.

UC is more professional and allows the end point to be reached as needed (instantly) by those who should have that access as allowed by recipient.

I’m a user and huge fan of both technology camps.  UC keeps a busy person spinning many activities at once more in control — which in this world of constant demands is a refreshing technological advantage.  Unfortunately UC has been slow to catch fire — perhaps due to the economy or the inability of vendors to clear articulate its true value.  Given time UC is a natural winner.  It simply needs to be explained, cost justified and exploited.  As with everything:  what is the value to the customer?

Enormous.

Is Microsoft the next Dinosaur?

Marketing used to be pretty easy to understand — not simple mind you, but easy.  Marketing consisted of branding, public relations, advertising, trade shows and the like.  One could choose print media, radio, TV, billboards and such.

The company was in charge of the message.  Does anyone remember “The Man in the Grey Flannel Suit”?

Today the world is on its head.  My last post discussed the great new book, What Would Google Do.  That book focuses on the model of free core offers that are supported by the ancillary things the core touches.  Content is less important than how to tap into content.

And all of this stems from the explosion of information that came about with the Internet.

I started my career in the 1980s when AT&T spun off the “Baby Bells” giving up the gold mine of monopoly POTS (plain old telephone service) customers for the holy grail of “a computer is just a node on a network.”

That idea rang so true to me, who became a true believer in distributed computing and “information anywhere, any time, any place.”

Everyone else laughed.  This was the era of huge mainframe proprietary computers (the BUNCH were still around — Burroughs, Univac, NCR, CDC and Honeywell, although on the decline.  RCA had already exited computing.  DEC, Wang (no jokes please), Data General. . .these were the ‘mini” computer guys with 64 KB of RAM or LESS (yes, LESS) — names now gone as they either went out of business or were swallowed by others. . .

Microsoft is now on the edge.  It faces the same fate as the BUNCH and the minicomputer vendors if it doesn’t soon wake up and realize that they’ve been commoditized.   Software is almost a “thing of the past” just as minicomputers went the way of the buggy whip and the VCR.  Will anyone buy software on a CD or DVD much longer?  Why, when you can access SaaS (software as a service) online?

Why bog down your internet access device (computer seems so passe, doesn’t it?) with gigabytes of software when it changes daily?  Why not just tap into a secure app that is FREE or nearly free?

Years ago I interviewed for a job at Microsoft and they asked me who their competitor was.  Fresh from Teradata and in a DBMS (data base) state of mind I said “Oracle?” The reply was:  “Google.”

Google?  Google???

But it only took me a second to realize they were right — he who owns the eye balls, owns the person.  Google may have begun “life” as a search engine, but now it is so much more — it is the gateway to the information highway.

Microsoft, I love you.  You’ve done amazing things —  Microsoft Dynamics, your unified communication platform rocks — but you need to realize that the world has changed.  Aside from being global, it is viral.  If you want to stay relevant start realizing what AT&T knew back in the 1980s — but failed to deliver.

A computer is nothing but a node on a network.

Stop focusing on delivering products for the computer.  Start thinking of the network.  Start thinking of the people as if they were on a vast buffet line (network) where they can pick and choose what they want (iPhone apps ring a bell?).

Because that is today’s reality.  And it isn’t changing any time soon.

Unified Communications and the Contact Center

First we went from Call Centers which were either inbound or outbound (e.g. you were calling someone or they were calling you). Then we moved to “contact” centers where the thought was that customers could communicate with your company over the phone (call center) or email — or maybe even via “live chat” over the internet.

Contact, whether by keyboard or voice!

The problem is that most contact centers didn’t spring up instantly (like the goddess Athena who was born full grown out of the head of her dad, Zeus). Most start small and grow — or we wind up with multiple call centers in various places (including India or China) that use different technologies. Some happened through mergers, some just over time. We have silos of information. Islands floating off by themselves.

All of these islands of contact points (distributed call centers, email, live chat, etc.) were put in place to reduce costs and yet still give decent customer service. To further complicate our global customer base we also have employees who telecommute or live in various cities.

How can all this complexity be unified? How can we simplify?

For one we make all these multiple points of communications (voice, email, fax, live chat) available from one point. When a customer (or employee) reaches out they make one connection and find the end point they need. No more phone tag. No more voice mails left on office phones and cell phones and punching “0” in the hopes of finding a live person who can help.

No more “let me transfer” you and getting disconnected.

Unified Communications brings the promise of true customer service at both reduced costs and high satisfaction.

Let me give a live example from my own life. A major credit card company (who shall remain nameless) has the world’s worst call center. When calling in one is first faced with IVR hades. Push “1” for this “2” for that, and oh please enter for 17 digit credit card number and expiration date. . .and what was your mother’s maiden name again???

By the time one reaches a human being (IF one reaches a live human being) the frustration level is high. The first agent invariably does NOT have your credit card number or mom’s name so you have to repeat the exercise. Invariably again this agent cannot help you but must transfer you to another department.

Many times in this “transfer” I have been disconnected and have to start the entire misery again. Oh, yes, one can try to do this over the internet but the interface is clumsy and results in much the same result.

Assuming one does get transferred one must again repeat the information. It is the lucky person indeed who does not face a third transfer! This credit card company is so poorly IT challenged that they were unable to give me a record of a charge and suggested I call the retailer for it! This after being transferred numerous times only to be told they didn’t have the very basic tools of their own business!

Now envision this contact center if it had unified communications. If you are a VIP you might have a direct connection in to a specific workgroup, but if not one can bypass the IVR rapidly and get to a live agent who has in front of them your information (on one of many CRM applications). That one person should have access to any and all information, but just in case they do need to transfer you they can see visually who is available and they can stay on the line with you as they hand off the call with the new agent.

COMMUNICATIONS. Not frustration! In this example my credit card record would have been emailed, faxed or snail mailed to be automatically. None of this is future and none of it is unrealistic. It is all available today and I dare say the credit card company in question would have saved considerable money considering the number of agents who handled (or mishandled) my call.

Internet Marketing — at home at work and on your cell phone

July 2007 McKinsey published a report on how companies are marketing online.

The results are intriguing.

Although most savvy companies are using some form of online marketing (about 2/3rd per the report) online and offline marketing are often separate and non-communicative. Doesn’t that seem odd in light of the whole “clicks and mortar” concept of combining the power of the internet with good old fashioned outlets?

A major reason for the disconnect is the old “silos of information” problem we’re so familiar with. The systems that run traditional businesses don’t have the necessary capabilities for Wiki, Blogs, viral marketing, etc. Even with today’s sophisticated CRM software solutions that allow a prospective customer entry via the Internet, “click to chat”, call center, email, fax, etc. most companies haven’t implemented that technology — let alone the next step that ties the Internet itself to their back end ERP or industry specific applications (such as HIS in health-care, BSS in Telecom, etc.).

So many companies have sophisticated “front end” marketing for their Internet presence — SMS coupons to the cell phone for example — but the back end is a little chaotic and highly manual.

Today when most people think of Internet marketing (if they think of it at all) they picture email SPAM and banner adds that may be linked to previous sites they’ve visited.

Thought leaders have long been blogging (hey, you’re one of them — you are reading this!) and using SEO (search engine optimization) to try and get their websites higher up on the coveted search engines like Google, Yahoo, Microsoft Live Search, etc.

We’ve moved from purely informational websites and B2C or B2B (business to consumer and business to business) to massively multi-player game sites (like World of Warcraft or Disney’s ToonTown) and social networks (like FaceBook and MySpace).

Virtual worlds are the next phase past social networks. The are multi-dimensional sites where users can interact with each other in a cross between IM (instant messaging) and social networking.

Podcasts and ad hoc Webinars are another new marketing venue where the information is multimedia and folks can watch them online or download them. These can take the form of demos and infomercials and can be a very effective form of online advertising.

We’ve barely scratched the surface — how about Wikis (like Wikipedia where anyone can contribute content) or Widgets (if you have Vista you probably have widgets showing the time or the stock market) and web services that do the work of making it all seem like magic. . .

Everyone seems to agree that online marketing is important and here to stay. 83% (per the McKinsey report) are using it for service management and 44% for pricing. The real trick here is to decide which form of online marketing makes the most sense for your company. To do that you must decide what your goal is (driving sales, improved customer satisfaction, leads, etc.) and then examining not only the various forms we’ve discussed here but which best suits your business model.

Everything old is new again — VoiceCon

VoiceCon is the big telephony convention. It is underway in Orlando — just next door to DisneyWorld. The location seems somehow ironic. Just as Disney is expert and re-inventing itself one sees “old” players insisting that they are new and improved.

But everything new is old again — and the reverse is also true.

Along with Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) and going “green” we have the even more secure networking vendors — and the biggest buzz of all? Why, Unified Communications of course!

UC (as it is known to its friends) is focused on making people “reachable” where ever they are — on one device. These days the average person has an office phone, a cell phone, a home phone, corporate email, personal email, an instant messenger (or two) and probably more I’ve forgotten to mention. I seem to recall a statistic that said the average American has seven (yes, 7) ways to be reached.

So we are forever checking multiple places and playing “phone tag” ad naseum. The promise of UC is that we can identify “where” we are and UC will let those we want to find us find us. (Those we try to avoid may still wind up in voice mail heaven). In UC verbage this is called “presence awareness.”

In other words big brother (UC) knows where you are. This is your “presence.”

At VoiceCon Avaya introduced their Intelligent Presence Server which they say takes UC another step forward — not just presence awareness, but presence information across multiple sources.

Nortel’s big pitch at VoiceCon is based on “mobile” UC. Siemens has had this for awhile– your office phone number is the one number given out and it can be routed to any device — including your PC or your cell phone. Nortel is tying the idea of UC with FMC (fixed mobile convergence) so that when you are at your office you don’t pay the cell phone company for minutes — your call is switched to a WiFi connection.

The problem here isn’t the technology but the cell phone companies who (for the most part) won’t allow phones that can be FMC capable on their networks. They aren’t dumb and they don’t want to lose the 30-50% of network revenue that goes away with FMC.

Still, that is Nortel’s pitch.

Cisco announced enhancements to its CCVP® professional-level certification. Why no big announcements like Nortel or Avaya? Hey, they don’t have to. Cisco is the leader in Unified Communications by far – with 50,000 Cisco Unified Communications customers worldwide and more than 70 percent of all Fortune 500 companies using their UC offer.

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